AHFA urges U.S. formaldehyde standard

Says testing should harmonize with global standards

Heath E. Combs, February 4, 2009

WASHINGTON — The American Home Furnishings Alliance says it favors a U.S. national standard on formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products.

In comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, AHFA also said that any U.S. rule should harmonize with the best-known standards used by global board suppliers.

The comments came at the last of a series of stakeholder forums held by the EPA on the possibility of a national regulation on formaldehyde, similar the rules California already has adopted.

A national approach to the issue is crucial to avoid conflicting state standards, said Bill Perdue, AHFA's vice president of environmental, safety and health issues and standards.

"AHFA hopes that a uniform U.S. standard would serve as a starting point for the development of a harmonized international standard that addresses the global nature of the furnishings industry," he told the EPA.

Current national formaldehyde standards for products such as composite panel, commonly used in furniture, are voluntary.

In California, new rules to limit formaldehyde emissions from composite panels such as particleboard, MDF and hardwood plywood started taking effect last month. They will be phased in for various parts of the supply chain.

Starting on July 1, 2010, furniture retailers and manufacturers will be required to produce and sell only products that contain panel that has been deemed CARB-compliant and has been approved by a third party laboratory.

Stores will have to keep documentation that traces the supply chain back to the board producer. Every entity along the supply chain - board supplier, manufacturer and retailer - is held responsible and liable for compliance, or risk fines for violations.

The Sierra Club led an effort last spring to request that the rule become a national standard. The EPA declined that request but started a rulemaking process to consider a national standard.

In its comments, AHFA recommended that any national standard should follow California's lead by focusing only on hardwood plywood, particleboard and MDF, and by regulating only the raw board components of end products such as furniture.

"EPA should not promulgate a regulation that requires the testing of finished goods, such as furniture or cabinets. Such a process has not been vetted and an established testing protocol has not yet been defined," Perdue said.

He said if the raw board component parts are properly regulated, the finished goods containing those component parts should be in compliance without additional testing expense.

Because of the panel industry's global nature, the AHFA also recommended that the EPA allow board manufacturers to harmonize the testing requirements with the California, European E-1 and Japanese F4 Star standards.

Perdue said many of the industry's suppliers are offshore and have met the European and Japanese standards two decades. Adding another testing procedure would increase costs, decrease efficiency and have some mills perform three or four types of testing, depending on where goods are shipped, he said.

AHFA also recommended that the EPA develop an oversight body to enforce its standards.

Meanwhile, the EPA has issued a 45-day extension on its public comment period on the proposed national formaldehyde regulation, until March 19.

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